Granada, Spain: Going underground beneath the Alhambra – Telegraph

Annie Bennett explores a secret world of tunnels and dungeons beneath the Spanish city’s Alhambra palace.

Grenada, Spain: Going underground beneath the Alhambra

The Alhambra at dusk Photo: CORBIS
 

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Granada at dusk, when the Alhambra is bathed in hues of pink and gold, is one of the most breathtaking sights in the world. With a small group of other visitors, I walked up the steep hill towards the great Moorish palace. We were on a walking tour, but not one that points out the usual sights. Leading our group was Lia Guerrero, who was no ordinary guide either. An artist and writer, she is part of Pura Vida, an association of creative types who teach and take classes at the Casa de Porras cultural centre in Granada’s Albaicín, the old Moorish quarter on the hill opposite the Alhambra.
Pura Vida was founded by the journalist and writer, César Requesens, who is passionate about the hidden history of his city. “Granada is a city of secrets,” he says. “The Granadiños like to keep things close to their chests, but everyone knows that there are secret passages linking some of the most famous buildings.”
Lia suddenly stopped and pointed at the trees covering the hillside below the Alhambra. “There is a big private house in there. It is a carmen, the typical Granada style, with an inner garden, which belongs to an elderly aristocratic lady from Seville. And there’s a long tunnel under the Alhambra, which comes out at the bottom of the hill. There’s a secret door in the Ambassador’s Hall. Remember that the Alhambra was a fortress as well as a palace. The tunnels meant they could get food in when it was under siege, and people could get in and out without being seen by their enemies.”
We asked Lia if she had ever been down there. “No, very few people have, though there are rumours that it might be opened up to the public soon.”

I remembered a story I had read in a magazine years ago, about how Walter Chrysler had wanted to build a secret replica of the Chrysler Building, back in the Twenties, before embarking on the real thing. The article said he had a lover from Granada, who was very well connected and had arranged for the structure to be built in a huge cave under the Alhambra. Sounds preposterous? Maybe, but Granada casts a hypnotic spell, and sometimes even the most outlandish ideas seem perfectly reasonable as you wander around the city.

We veered away from the Alhambra and onto the neighbouring hill, the Colina del Mauror, where the cellars of some of the highest houses apparently conceal a few surprises. Lia showed us a large house, mostly hidden behind a high wall. Although now dilapidated, it was clearly once very grand. “That is the Carmen de los Catalanes, which is now part of the Alhambra estate and is being restored. There are tunnels underneath it, and pits in the gardens that were used to store grain, and may also have been used to keep prisoners in,” Lia says.

“There are tunnels and dungeons everywhere underfoot here,” César says. “They were dug out by the Moors or by Christian prisoners, no one is really sure. After the Moors left in 1492, they were used by the new Christian residents, and that went on for centuries, maybe until relatively recently, as the passages linked the various residences and enabled the great and the good to lead secret lives.”

We were heading for the Fundación Rodríguez-Acosta, a stylish white carmen built into the side of the hill by the artist José Maria Rodríguez-Acosta at the beginning of the 20th century. Now it is a cultural centre and exhibition venue, but we were not there to admire the paintings; the building contains a remarkable secret, and we were about to discover it.
We walked through an inner patio with a tinkling marble fountain, then out into the gardens, arranged on different levels on the hillside. The city sprawled below us in the fading light, while swallows flew in undulating formations. We went down to an elegant courtyard with a rectangular pool presided over by a figure of Venus. A smiling man appeared with a large key, opened an iron gate, and beckoned us into the shadowy space beyond. We entered a passage framed by columns and horseshoe arches. By torchlight, we gingerly made our way down a rough flight of steps into an eerie underground world.

We must have descended 60 or 70 feet before coming to a circular, grotto-like room, incongruously decorated with urns and sculptures. “The artist found the tunnels when the house was being built and set about restoring them to make them more accessible,” Lia says. “He built the steps, and arches and columns to support the walls and ceilings, and put in friezes and all these other decorative bits and pieces.”

Narrow passageways led off the tunnel, some blocked up, some with a narrow slit at the end, giving a tantalising glimpse of the gardens or the Granada sky. The temperature was perfect, neither hot nor cold.

“It is likely that originally there were ramps, as given the height of the tunnels, people probably went down on horses, mules or donkeys. If they had been walking, the ceilings would be lower,” Lia says. “The tunnels link with the houses nearby and lead down into the Realejo neighbourhood on the hill below. This was the Jewish area, and we think they used the tunnels for rituals and meetings,” César added. It all sounded very mysterious. “The thing is, there is hardly any documentation about all these underground passages; they don’t even figure on most official records, and aren’t mentioned in most history books,” he says.
Some time later, we climbed back up the uneven steps and emerged in the garden, where the cypresses had turned from dark green to velvety black and the magical city of Granada glittered below us in the light of a full moon.

Essentials
Staying there
Room Mate Leo (0034 958 535579; www.room-matehotels.com), a restored town house in the centre of Granada with contemporary design; doubles from £63 (€70).

Further information
The Granada Underground Passages and Dungeons route is one of several tours run by the Pura Vida Association (201939;www.granadaunderground2.blogspot.com) and costs £27 (€30). Information also available at the Pura Vida booth in Plaza Trinidad in Granada, or from the Granada Tourist Board (536973; granadatur.com)

Cuba to require visitors to carry medical insurance

Starting May 1st, 2010, a new Cuban government measure will require all foreigners, and Cubans living abroad, to possess travel insurance with medical cover in order to enter the country.

Cuba’s Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers published the new law in the nations Official Gazette, stating that tourists, and Cuban emigrants must have health insurance before being allowed in the country. Foreign citizens who have temporary residence in Cuba must have medical insurance that covers them for the duration of their stay.

The measure states that only foreign insurance companies that are recognized by Cuba will be allowed to issue the approved insurance plans. Also, there will be sales points at every point of entry into Cuba where travelers can buy insurance from local Cuban insurance entities.

In the published measure, diplomats and members of accredited international organizations will be exempt from this rule, although the measure does not reveal the cost of the mandatory insurance.

The Havana Times has an English translation of the published measure, available here: http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=20914

Our Readers’ 15 Favorite Places in Ireland

Smarter Travel
by
Kate Hamman, SmarterTravel Staff – March 17, 2010

Ireland - Doolin: Doonagore Castle
(Photo: iStockphoto/Kelvin Jay Wakefield)
We gathered comments from Facebook, twitter, and our own Ireland picks to create a new photo gallery showcasing your favorite places on the Emerald Isle. From Doolin to Dublin, and many surprising destinations in between, here are your top picks.

Doolin

Overlooking the Atlantic Coast in County Clare, Doolin is a small seaside village known for its lively music and close proximity to the Cliffs of Moher. The town may seem a bit sleepy during the day, but the nights are filled with traditional Irish songs.

Reader Marcia Smith Preusser says Doolin “has the best bars, and is the traditional Irish music center in country, they say. It is great and just two miles from Cliffs of Mohr.”

Ireland-Aran Islands: Farmhouse
(Photo: iStockphoto/mikeuk)

Aran Islands

Nestled at the mouth of Galway Bay, the Aran Islands offer a glimpse into the past by preserving many of Ireland’s cultural and heritage traditions. Visitors may even overhear Gaelic being spoken, as the native-born islanders still speak it. The islands are well known for their monuments, including Dun Aonghasa Fort, a World Heritage site located on the island of Inis Mor.
Among Ireland’s many historic sites, reader Otarre felt “it was the Aran Isles that captured my heart. I love the peacefulness I found there, the music, the Gaelic spoken in the church services, the craftsmanship, and the hospitality of the people.”

Ireland - Killarney: Cottage with Horse
(Photo: iStockphoto/Joan Champ)

Killarney

Considered the starting point for the Ring of Kerry scenic drive, Killarney makes an excellent home base, yet is also an attraction all its own. Surrounded by natural beauty—including the Killarney National Park and the enchanted lakes—the town offers many different ways to explore the area, including by pony ride, boat tour, or a jaunting car (horse-drawn carriage) trip.
Reader allaboard loved Killarney’s location, saying it’s “very centralized in the southwest part of Ireland, and convenient to so many wonderful sites. We stayed at the Loch Lien Country House, which is like a little piece of heaven with its awesome tranquil views, and beautiful, clean, and friendly accommodations.”

Ireland: Doneagl National Park
(Photo: iStockphoto/RafalStachura)

County Donegal

Located on the northwest coast, County Donegal provides a varied landscape sure to please any taste, including a national park, sandy beaches, towering mountains, landscaped golf courses, castles, and historic ruins. The area is an explorer’s dream, and offers visitors plenty of ways to enjoy the journey, and not just the destination.
Reader hildynyc loves County Donegal’s “beautiful coast, mountains, and countryside. And the best musicians in Ireland! It’s free of the hordes of tourists and tour buses. You’ll find wonderfully welcoming and friendly people in County Donegal.”

Ireland - Galway Bay: Dunguair Castle at Sunset
(Photo: iStockphoto/Hon Lau)

Galway Bay

Nestled between County Galway and the Burren in County Clare, Galway Bay encompasses about 31 miles of land, offering views of the Aran Islands. The Bay is known for its sailing—especially its traditional sailing craft known as the Hooker—cruises, deep-sea fishing, and swimming. Reader ginnyg44 found the area particularly delightful, noting that “it was simple and beautiful. The people were lovely.”
Even though reader PatrickH. “loved all of the parts of Ireland I was able to visit,” he was particularly impressed by Galway Bay, saying, “to be able to watch the sun go down on Galway Bay was a great treat. Loved the Connemara area. More than 40 shades of green and I loved them all.”

Ireland - Dublin: Ha'Penny Bridge at Night
(Photo: iStockphoto/thierry Maffeis)

Dublin

Dublin—with its historic castles, plethora of museums, a world-famous brewery, and a lively bar scene—has something for everyone. The city is a friendly and welcoming host, inviting visitors to learn about its history, listen to its music, and experience its culture.
Reader lawthomas believes Dublin is worth visiting, saying, “there is so much to do and see, including easy day trips by car. The city is fun and the prices at the luxury hotels are a bargain. Many restaurants have reduced prices.”

Ireland - Kinsale
(Photo: iStockphoto/Marc C. Johnson)

Kinsale

With cultural influences including French, Spanish, and English, Kinsale was a port of consequence for more than 300 years, and still maintains a great deal of its Victorian and Georgian architecture. The city was also the site of a great battle in 1601, which many consider a major turning point in Irish history. Today, Kinsale welcomes visitors with great food, historic sites, and traditional pubs.
Reader lesleya1 spent 10 days in Ireland with her husband, and claims “the residents of Kinsale are warm and friendly, and the food an amazing offering of fresh seafood and local delicacies. It’s location within an easy drive to many other tourist locations makes Kinsale the ideal spot to spend several nights as you travel the Irish countryside.”
Ireland - Wicklow: Celtic Cross
(Photo: iStockphoto/Ciaran Carty)

Wicklow National Park

The Wicklow Mountains National Park is unique, with remnants of the past scattered everywhere. Visitors may stumble upon tombs, cairns, rock art, standing stones, and bullaun stones surrounded by a lush natural setting. One of the most important monastic sites in Ireland, Glendalough, can also be found within the park.
Reader Avivitohio was particularly enchanted by the area, saying the “view felt like walking into Ireland’s fairie wilds, prehistoric times, and ancient Celtic and Viking history. The views on the drive there from Dublin were equally enchanting; hills and cliffs, deep beer colored Loch Tay, peat cutting sites, vines and gorse bushes and isolated farms.”

Ireland: Errigal Mountain
(Photo: iStockphoto/Alasdair Thomson)

Mount Errigal

County Donegal is known for its dramatic peaks, and Mount Errigal stands tallest—a towering 2,466 feet—among them. Made from metamorphic rock, the mountain is an outdoor enthusiast’s playground, and many visitors come to hike, picnic, or explore the area.
“Whether you hike to the top or look at it from a distance, [Mount] Errigal evokes ancient Ireland, and is a living part of today’s landscape as well,” said reader kathleen2.

Ireland: Newgrange Tomb
(Photo: iStockphoto/Philippa Banks)

Newgrange

Built around 3200 B.C., Newgrange’s Megalithic Passage Tomb covers an area of more than one acre and is estimated to have taken a crew of 300 people 20 years to complete. The tomb was once thought to be the home of Oenghus, the god of love, in Irish mythology, and was rediscovered in 1699. As a designated World Heritage Site, the tomb is quite popular among tourists, especially during the Winter Solstice, when the chamber is illuminated with the rising sun.
During a visit to Newgrange, reader winkpc20 was “reminded … of the Mayan ruins in Central America.”

Reader ben657681 thinks the tomb is a “must-see,” and that “the passage tomb is truly awe inspiring when you consider that it was built before the pyramids.”

Belfast: City Hall
(Photo: iStockphoto/Robert Mayne)

Belfast

Long a bustling seaport and safe haven for weary travelers, Belfast has nevertheless seen its fair share of troubles. The city, however, is still a place where a tired tourist will always be welcome. These days, Belfast combines the historic with the hip and offers a dynamic art scene and nightlife.
Reader gondaluer ranks Belfast as a favorite, and swears that “the mural/black cab tour will change your perspective on the ‘struggles,’ and maybe even change your perspective on life.”

Ireland - Sligo
(Photo: iStockphoto/Michael Walsh)

Sligo

Once a major port, Sligo, meaning “Shelley River” in Gaelic, is now the second largest city in the west of Ireland, and continues to grow. Surrounded by rugged mountains and serene ocean views, the area’s natural beauty was immortalized in poetry and stories by William Butler Yeats, who spent school holidays here with his grandmother.

Reader imzaidi is a fan of Sligo and its literary roots, saying “I’ll never forget bicycling through the area and going to ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree,’ made famous by his poem, and seeing where he is buried—a truly amazing trip that still nourishes my heart and soul.”

Ireland - Dingle: Dunquin
(Photo: iStockphoto/Scott Atherton)

Dingle Peninsula

With a dramatic mountainside plunging into a rugged and richly green coastline, as well as tiny, winding roads passing breathtaking ocean views, stone ruins, and colorful wildflowers, the Dingle Peninsula has won the hearts of many, including reader teddi who continues to return for the “the beauty and the people.”

Reader radmoo visited the peninsula last summer, and “loved waking in the morning, looking out our window and seeing cows to the left and sheep to the right,” and said the people were “the friendliest we have ever encountered in our travels.”

Ireland - Ring of Kerry: Sheep
(Photo: iStockphoto/Christian Campbell)

Ring of Kerry

With historic sites, monuments, ancient monasteries, waterfalls, and beaches, the Ring of Kerry is far more than just a 110-mile drive along the Iveragh Peninsula. And, outdoor enthusiasts will rejoice in the many activities available, including hiking, cycling, golfing, fishing, and horseback riding.
Reader Bon explored the area with family, and was captivated: “To say it was breathtaking is an understatement. Majestic, diverse, magnificent, twisty, windy, scary, and exhilarating just starts to sum it up.”

Link to Original Article: http://www.smartertravel.com/travel-advice/photos/our-readers-15-favorite-places-in-ireland.html?id=4498906&frame=0

Tel Aviv’s Little Russia

On Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, T+L finds pork on rye, women in babushkas, and plenty of Russian vodka—all the makings of a cultural mash-up.

From March 2010By
“My hands are cold, but my heart is warm,” a tanned young Israeli girl coos to me in broken Russian at a Tel Aviv nightclub as we nod along to an incomprehensible ska beat. “Do you think I’m pretty? Are you a Russian billionaire? I only want to marry an oligarch. Like Gaydamak.”

That would be Arkady Gaydamak, the Israeli-Russian billionaire, aspiring politician, owner of the right-wing Beitar Jerusalem soccer squad (its fans famously refused to heed a moment of silence in honor of slain former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin), noted philanthropist, and fugitive from French justice for alleged illegal arms trading to Angola and the less glamorous crime of tax evasion. No book or screenplay has yet been written about Gaydamak’s fantastical life, an omission that may soon have to be corrected. “I am the most popular man in Israel,” Gaydamak once proclaimed (at least one opinion poll said as much), marking him as the most stunning representative of an immigrant group that has peppered the omelette of Israel’s politics, society, and culture since the 1990’s, when the Soviet Union collapsed and more than a million Russian speakers showed up in the Holy Land.

In Tel Aviv, Israel’s Mediterranean business and cultural capital, I meet the young, freckled, redheaded Masha Zur-Glozman, a freelance writer and Israeli-born daughter of immigrants from Russia and Ukraine. “The Russians are now perceived to be cooler, more cosmopolitan,” Zur-Glozman tells me. “They have connections to places like Moscow and Berlin [a city also home to a large Russian community] that the native-born Israelis do not.”

Zur-Glozman has written about the 10 stereotypes of Russian-Israelis. Among her menagerie: the bad-tempered veteran who puts on his World War II medals on Victory Day, can’t let go of his memories, and constantly toasts “Death to our enemies!”; the quiet, intelligent one with very specific interests like Greek pottery or Napoleonic campaigns who speaks shyly with a heavy Russian accent; the very bitter former-Soviet-bureaucrat-cum-third-grade-sports-teacher who drinks too much, terrorizes his family, and is forever torn between over-patriotism and hating Israel; and the sexy math teacher with a white-collared blouse, spectacular cleavage, and leather skirt who abuses her students, ignores the girls, humiliates the physically weak, and openly cheats on her poor schmo of a husband.

Walking down Tel Aviv’s Allenby Street I seem to run into all of the above and more, the Russian language muscling in on the spitfire Hebrew and the occasional drop of English. “Worlds colliiiiiiding!” Zur-Glozman does her best Seinfeld imitation with a comic flourish of the arms. Allenby, like many streets leading in the direction of a municipal bus station, has something not quite right about it. The street exudes its own humid breath, its faded buildings sweating like pledges at a Southern fraternity. When the sun goes down, darkened nightclubs with names like Temptation and Epiphany entice the passersby. Russian pensioners, some sporting the beguilingly popular “purple perm,” sing and play the accordion for shekels. Hasids try to snare male Jews with the promise of phylacteries.

At 106 Allenby the Mal’enkaya Rossiya (Little Russia) delicatessen has everything you need to re-create a serious Russian table in the Middle East. There’s vacuum-packed vobla, dried fish from the Astrakhan region, which is perfectly matched with beer; marinated mushrooms in an enormous jar; creamy, buttery Eskimo ice cream—a Leningrad childhood favorite of mine; tangy eggplant salad; chocolate nut candy; glistening tubs of herring fillet; and a beautiful pair of pig legs. “Israelis love these stores now,” Zur-Glozman tells me, and the pig legs may be just one of the reasons. Russian speakers, Jewish or not, have an abiding love affair with the piggy, and it was the influx of former Soviet immigrants that brought a taste for the cloven-hoofed animal to Israel, much to the dismay of the country’s religious conservatives. The wildly successful and ham-friendly Tiv Taam chain of luxe food stores came along with the Russian immigration; the aforementioned Gaydamak tried to purchase the chain and turn it kosher, but even his billions couldn’t temper the newfound Israeli enthusiasm for the call of the forbidden oinker.

Farther down on Allenby, the Russian-language Don Quixote bookstore—the Russian nerve center of Allenby Street—is full of curious pensioners and boulevard intellectuals feasting on a lifetime’s worth of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction, Russian translations of the kabbalah, and an illustrated Hebrew-Russian version of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin, which is presented like a Talmudic text with sweeping commentaries crowding the words. “To Nineteen Year Old Gaga—so that he won’t be stupid,” an old tome is helpfully inscribed.

A few blocks down the street, the Little Prague restaurant is full of Russian boys hitting on Israeli waitresses, and young Russian women pretending to eat. Little Prague exults in a wonderful version of the Czech classic veprove koleno—a marinated and slow-roasted pork knuckle with a hint of rye, which in the hands of the chef is flaky and light. There is also a heroic schnitzel and excellent Staropramen and dark Kozel beer on tap. The interior is gloomy Mitteleuropean, but outside a nice garden deck beckons, fully populated by drunk, hungry people as late as 3 a.m. and at times bathed in the familiar sounds of the theme song to The Sopranos.

Allenby saunters into the sea, where pale ex-Soviets take to the beach like it’s their native Odessa and florally dressed babushkas offer me advice: “Young man, take your sneakers off, let your feet breathe.” A right turn at Ben Yehuda Street leads to the Viking, a languorous, partly outdoor restaurant that joylessly specializes in dishes like golubets, a stuffed cabbage peppery and garlicky enough to register on the taste buds. As I tear my way though the golubets and lubricate with a shot of afternoon vodka, a mother in one corner softly beats her son, who is wearing a T-shirt that says ready when you ready. Crying, beaten children, along with sea breezes and heavy ravioli-style pelmeni swimming in ground pepper, complete the familiar picture, which could have been broadcast live from Sochi, Yalta, or some other formerly Soviet seaside town.

Off the Allenby drag, Nanuchka is what Zur-Glozman calls a neo-Georgian supper club, a place where one can order a cool pomegranate vodka drink, featuring grenadine juice from Russia and crushed ice, or a frozen margarita made with native arak liquor, almonds, and rose juice. The décor is mellow and cozy like a shabby house in Havana, complete with gilt-edged mirrors, portraits of feisty, long-living Georgian grandmas, and many charming rooms stuffed with sumptuous divans and banquettes in full Technicolor. The highlight of the crowded and raucous bar is a photograph of the former prime minister Ariel “The Bulldozer” Sharon staring with great unease at a raft of Picassos. At its more authentic, the Georgian food can really shine. Try the tender chakapulu lamb stew with white plums and tarragon, or setsivi—a cool chicken breast in walnut sauce, bursting with sweetness and garlic. Pinch the crust of the cheburek meat pie and watch the steam escape into the noisy air.

On the same street as Nanuchka, the club Lima Lima hosts a popular Sunday night showcase for Russian bands called “Stakanchik,” or “little drinking glass.” Amid luxuriant George of the Jungle décor, young, hip, and sometimes pregnant people in ironic CCCP and Jesus T-shirts shimmy and sway by the stage. A young singer wearing an ethnic hat begins a song with the words “Now it has come, my long-awaited old age,” a sentiment somehow both Jewish and Russian.

I end my tour of Russian Tel Aviv at a much stranger place, the cavernous Mevdevev nightclub, located a stone’s throw from the American embassy but occupying, until its recent closing, a space-time continuum all its own. As the evening begins, a birthday boy in his forties, dressed in a plaid shirt and sensible slacks, is paraded on stage by the MC and forced to sing 70’s and 80’s Russian disco hits.

A young woman in a skimpy plaid schoolgirl outfit dances around a SpongeBob birthday balloon as the nostalgic Russian music, along with a detour into the early Pet Shop Boys, bellows and hurts. My friend Zur-Glozman meets an armed, cigar-chain-smoking Ukrainian, a graduate student of the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University who now lives in the occupied territories, as do many ex-Soviet immigrants. He invites Zur-Glozman and some of our friends for a ride in his car, which is the size of a school bus. We negotiate the gleaming white curves of Bauhaus Tel Aviv, looking for a nightcap. Over at Little Prague, the inevitable Israeli political argument breaks out between the right-wing Russian-speaking settler and some of my liberal Israeli friends. “You probably think our houses are built of Palestinian babies,” the settler huffs.

“Well, you’re the one with the gun,” an Israeli woman tells him.

I worry for the sanctity of the evening, torn between geographical kinship with the formerly Soviet settler and political kinship with the progressive Tel Avivians, but as mugs of Kozel beer are passed around and the nighttime temperature falls to bearable levels, the passions cool. “As you can see,” an Israeli friend tells me, “we aren’t killing each other.”

Gary Shteyngart is a T+L contributing editor.

Link to Original Article: http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/tel-avivs-little-russia/1